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Wednesday, October 5, 2011


The interiors of the casinos were gaudy and
geared for one thing and one thing only – separating
people from their money and making them come
back for more of the same. Senior citizens went at the
slot machines with rabid abandon. The table games
were less thronged. It was a Tuesday evening. The air
was rife with anticipation, angst, anguish, anger and

The hunger of the gambler, I soon realized,
is not the hunger to win. It is the hunger to feel
something in the extreme, to experience emotion as
a sensation again and again – with every turn of the
card, spin of the wheel, roll of the dice. For awhile, we
walked along the boardwalk from casino to casino,
each one offering dining and entertainment – much of
it free – to visitors in this unending burst of light amid
the darkness. Norman set the pace and did most of
the talking.
“Spectacular isn’t it? And America is awash
in casinos, whether they want them or not. Across
the state line, in Pennsylvania, there was a vote to
decide if gambling would be allowed. The citizens
voted four to one against it. So, the governor declared
gambling essential to the economy and legalized it
anyway. Then he gave all the casino licenses to some
of his supporters. First it was only slot machines. Now there are table games, too – craps, roulette, blackjack. Upstate New York, Connecticut – the gaming industry is everywhere in your territory. And the punters keep on coming.”
“It’s not like this in England?”
“Not hardly, mate. Not hardly. Casinos are meant to be a bit more posh there. Of course, the motivation is the same. But there are nowhere near as many casinos there as here.”
A few heads turned to take us in – our sunglasses at night being perhaps anomalous but not in any egregious way. As I took it all in, disquiet filled me. For years, like so many in my world, I have suborned niggling doubt about the future of the theater with a belief that what goes around comes around, that one day people will be overwhelmed by a desire for live entertainment again and the theater will be resurgent and new audiences will come into being. The hay day of the Great White Way will come back. This is what we tell ourselves and others. It is all malarkey. As I walked in Norman’s world, the truth was revealed.
How can theater compete with this? No wonder Norman was eager to come to the eastern seaboard. Gambling has the potential to become the dominant form of live entertainment, if it has not already done so. I am amazed that no one is talking about this in the theater community. All my rants and tirades are off the mark, the result of my insular existence. It is not the current crop of producers. It is not the universities and their ersatz theater education programs. It is gambling.
Casinos are sucking up entertainment dollars like giant cosmic vacuum cleaners. Attendance is down at the theater. It is down at sporting events and musical concerts. Yet, new casinos are opening and business is booming. People are no longer passive. Who wants to be part of Broadway audiences when this kind of excitement is within an hour or two in every direction but out to sea? People are not mushrooms. Who wants to sit quietly in the dark and be fed what is all too often someone else’s bovine excrement?
I put a thousand dollars on red at a roulette wheel and tested my mental powers. The ball jumped into a red slot, whether of its own accord or mine I’m not sure. Norman clapped me on the back and laughed out loud.
He leaned in close and whispered, “Pick up your winnings and let’s go. That’s not how we do it.”
I took the chips to the cashier window and cashed out.
On the boardwalk Norman said, “Don’t ever do that again in my presence.”
“Do what?” I said, with my best imitation of innocence – a state of being I have never actually experienced.
“Stick to producing. You’re not much of an actor, mate. You jumped that ball with mind control. It was blatant and it was obvious. If you plan to cheat like that, may I advise a couple hundred hours practice? With an actual roulette wheel, I might add.”
I laughed.
“It was that obvious, huh?”
“This is not funny, Gus. Gaming is my business, just like theater is your business. There are cameras in every casino recording everyone and every bet. I have to keep up appearances in this arena the same as you do in yours.”
“I promise to keep my money in my pocket for the rest of our visit here.”
“Good idea.”
“I’ll tell you something, though, Norman. This place has got my attention. I’m wondering if maybe this isn’t the business for me.”
I was basking in the light on the boardwalk and the soothing, endless splashing of the waves on the beach and the pilings of the pier.
“You’ll find that things are much more elemental in gaming. Everything is raw and open. People are reduced to their most basic emotions. There’s no art to it. There’s no phony uplifting of the human spirit. It’s all about separating people from their cash. And afterward, for us, with a little finesse, separating people from their blood becomes the real sport.”
“These are regular people, though. Don’t you attempt to find criminals to feed on? I understand that we can’t do that all the time. But don’t you at least try and make an effort to feed on evil-doers?”
“Evil doers? Why would I? You’ve been in the theater too long, Gus old boy. There’s nothing moral or immoral about our choice of blood husks. Don’t try to rationalize. People are all the same. In a place like this, you realize that’s the case. Everything is right out in the open here. There’s no subterfuge. There are no masques or make up to hide behind. It’s all hunger and greed and endless desire. I don’t make excuses for who I am and what I do. Seems to me you’re trying to intellectualize the elemental. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow another one will get sucked dry. And every tomorrow after that will be the same. Surely you’ve figured out that much.”
“Of course I have. But part of me wants to feel like there is worth in what I am, that maybe there’s some value in my existence, some reason why I’m here, or why you’re here. Some function that we fulfill that moves things forward in a positive way.”
“That’s a load of manure for your garden, mate. Rise above it. You’re like them if you think like that. We vampires don’t do the agenbite of inwit.”
“We don’t do what?”
“The agenbite of inwit – remorse born in the conscience. We have neither conscience nor the capability of experiencing remorse. I can’t believe you’ve not figured all this out on your own.”
“I believe we can develop a capacity for moral behavior.”
“Are you mad? There are no morals, not for us. Positive and negative – they’re blood types. That’s it. All the rest is bosh is what that is. Americans delude themselves with all that positive thinking and you’ve gotten sucked in, so to speak. Positive thinking is a form of self hypnosis that allows people to be comfortable and delusional at the same time. Here, though, they wake up to their true natures. Here greed and want are in full bloom. All the positive thinking in the world won’t make the dice tumble in anyone’s favor, not among them anyway.”
“Still, it seems to me there’s got to be more to us than hunting and feeding. We have powers like angels.”
“So you say. But I’m here to tell you there are no guardian angels. For the punters there’s luck, chaos and death. For us, there’s blood and eternity.”